A Sermon Delivered By C. H. Spurgeon, At The Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington. *8/23/2011
I also taught Ephraim to go, taking them by their arms. (Hosea 11:3)
1. If you note well the opening part of this chapter, you will find that it consists of a wonderful chain of mercies; every one single line is a rare jewel, and the whole passage is an unspeakably precious treasure chest. The chapter begins with love; ancient, sovereign, electing love. “When Israel was a child, then I loved him.” When the Israelite nation was in a very low and poor state, and was brought into slavery and subjection in Egypt, God had set his love upon it, and called it his own inheritance. They were not chosen for their numbers or greatness as a nation, but when they were little and despised they were still loved by God. Distinguishing grace had written the name of Israel upon Jehovah’s heart. Spiritually we who have believed are in the same favoured condition, and our hearts rejoice today in the memory of “His great love, by which he loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses and sins.” This is the river’s source, from which all the streams of mercy flow, — “I have loved you with an everlasting love, therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you.” Like the golden sanded river which had its rise in Eden, electing love branches off into many streams, and waters all the garden of the Lord. This is the root from which the tree of blessing springs. “He has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: according as he has chosen us in him before the foundation of the world.” (Ephesians 1:3,4) Let others say what they wish, electing love will always be most precious to us; for it is the foundation blessing, the first of all favours, the mother of mercies. We nail to our mast the old flag of free grace, and believe with the apostle that we were “predestinated according to the purpose of him who works all things after the counsel of his own will.” (Ephesians 1:11)
2. The next sweet word in the chapter is sonship; “When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt.” We are, according to the inspired apostle, “predestinated to the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will.” (Ephesians 1:5) Adoption follows close on the heels of election, and is another messenger of good news. Innumerable blessings come to us by this door. “Because you are sons, God has sent out the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, ‘Abba, Father.’ Therefore you are no more a servant, but a son.” “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God.” “Beloved, now we are the sons of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” Sonship with God is an unspeakable dignity, and yet it is reserved for such poor dust and ashes as we are: what shall we say concerning this? Are we not swallowed up with adoring gratitude? To which of the angels has he said at any time, “You are my son?” but this has been said to us; and we are so favoured above all creatures that the Lord God has made. Boundless blessings are included in sonship: it is no light thing to be a child of the Lord of Hosts, the Prince of the kings of the earth. “If a son, then an heir of God through Christ.” This opens up before us far reaching views of present covenant provision, and of future infinite bliss. To be, indeed, born into the family of God is a dignity to which the descent of an imperial prince bears no more comparison than a spark in the tinder to the sun in the heavens.
3. And, because we have in this chapter love and sonship, we see immediately after, in the same verse, calling, salvation, and deliverance: “I called my son out of Egypt.” The Lord does not leave his chosen people for ever in the bondage of sin; when the day of their jubilee dawns, they go out without price or reward, with a high hand and an outstretched arm. They cannot remain for ever under guilt, nor continue as heirs of wrath, even as others; they must come out of Egypt when the years are accomplished. They are his, and he will call them by his effectual grace, and separate them for himself. Their calling is something more than the common and universal gospel invitation: it is a persuasive, convicting, conquering call. Only those know it whom the Lord has set apart for himself: “Whom he predestinated them he also called.” This call is like Joseph’s invitation to his venerable father to come and see him: it was accompanied by the wagons in which the old man could ride. It was not only an entreating call, but an enabling call. “All whom the Father gives to me shall come to me,” says the Saviour; and he speaks with purpose, because he helps them to come — indeed, he brings them himself, carrying them, like lost sheep, “upon his shoulders rejoicing.” There is no violence done to the will, but it is set free, and then, being acted upon by a graciously enlightened understanding, it yields to the call, and follows Jesus. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” Israel would never have come out of Pharaoh’s country, if the Lord had not brought them out; but no one can say that he drove them out — indeed, rather, “as for his people, he led them out like sheep.” Every step of their exodus from bondage under the divine call was the result of divine leading and influence. Even so spiritually a particular but delightful stress is put upon the chosen by God, and, therefore, they come out of the Egypt of sin. The grace to eat the paschal lamb, to strike the blood upon the lintel, and to gird up the loins, and leave the land of leeks, and garlic, and onions, is given only to the heirs of the promised possession.
4. Then we upon the blessing of holy upbringing and education, which we have in our text: “I taught Ephraim also to go, taking them by their arms,” as they do who have to teach little children to walk, supporting their tottering footsteps, and instructing them how to put one foot before the other, until they are able, at last, to run alone. Calvin says it means, “I have led him on foot. Just as a child who cannot yet walk with a firm foot is, by degrees, accustomed to do so, and the nurse, or the father, or the mother, who leads him, has a regard for his infancy; so, also, I have led Israel, as much as his feet could bear.” And, as if this mercy and condescension of God, in so comparing himself to a woman with her babe, were not sufficient, in addition to this he becomes a physician too, and grants healing; he says, “I healed them.” They not only had weakness that needed to be supported, and ignorance that needed to be tutored; but they had, in addition, sickness and infirmity that needed medicine. “I healed them.” He who had carried them as Shaddai — the All Sufficient Lord, became to them Jehovah Rophi — the Lord who heals them. Who shall tell how much we all owe to the heavenly pharmacy? Our diseases are deep seated and most dangerous; how happy we are in having an omnipotent Physician, whose word alone is more than a match for all our maladies. Surely we have a sickness for every day in the year, but the Beloved Physician has a remedy for every complaint. Glory be to him who forgives all our iniquities, and heals all our diseases. Then, as if all this were not enough, we find him drawing them on in the paths of obedience and holiness — not with ropes and chains, that would compel against their will, treating them roughly — but with forces suited for minds and hearts. “I drew them with cords of a man, with bands of love.” Hence the gracious Spirit of God works in us to will and to do his own good pleasure. “The love of Christ constrains us”: “As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God”: “The Spirit also helps our infirmities.”
5. So we have in a few lines unostentatiously opened up before us a cabinet of covenant gems, rivalling those which adorned the high priest of old. Here is a holy education for the nursling who was taunt to walk; here is exercise of the strength which the physician had restored.
6. As if this had not completed it, there comes unburdening and rest giving: “I was to them as those who take off the yoke on their jaws.” They had been like oxen, with a heavy yoke upon them, and God had come and taken the yoke away; and there they stood, as we see horses stand when they are made to rest, when the bearing rein is loosened, and they stand at ease. And this God has as surely done for us as for his ancient people. He has fulfilled that word to us, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, and you shall find rest for your souls.” We enjoy the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding: it keeps our hearts and minds by Christ Jesus.
7. Nor is this all for the gracious Redeemer takes care to fill his people’s mouths with good things; hence, he does not forget the feeding, and it is added, “I gave food to them.” The Lord refreshed his weary people with “suitable food for them.” Just as the oxen, after the yoke was removed, were fed, so God, when he had removed our yoke of guilty bondage, fed us with the finest of the wheat, as he made us understand the gospel of his Son. The doctrines and promises of his word are substantial food for hungry souls. “My soul shall be satisfied with marrow and fatness, and my mouth shall praise you with joyful lips.” Certain undershepherds are afraid of laying too much doctrinal food before the Lord’s people, but it is a great mistake. Truth never engorges, though it always satisfies. The Good Shepherd does not stint his sheep, but he gives them so much, that they lie down amid the exceeding plenty of the green pastures. They cannot eat it all, and they lie down in the midst of a superabundance, which infinite mercy has provided. See, then, how God’s boundless love piles mountain upon mountain, as the old classics used to say, Pelion upon Ossa, that we, up from the depths of our distress, may climb to the heights of his blessedness, and enjoy the fulness of the glory which God has treasured up for us in the person of Christ Jesus our Lord. One is tempted, with such a preface to our text, to linger in it, and to be like the man who made the porch of his house larger than the house itself. You can only be fed, and it does not matter whether the barley loaves and fishes are in my basket, or whether I carry them loosely in my hand: as long as you are refreshed by them you will not quarrel with my disorderly serving. However, I restrain my loitering heart, and proceed to the text.
8. Here is the metaphor of a nurse and a child. “I also taught Ephraim to go, taking them by their arms.” Let us look at this in reference to the children of Israel; then let us view it in reference to ourselves.
9. I. Take ISRAEL’S CASE first.
10. They were in Egypt, and God was about to bring them out, and make them a nation, and give them a country of their own. He began to deal with them as little children, for he selected as his ambassador and as the mediator between him and them, not a man of imperious disposition, not an Elijah with fire at his beck and call, or a John the Baptist with an axe in his hand, but “the man Moses, who was very meek, more than all men who were upon the face of the earth.” They were childish, vain, foolish, and their leader must be very gentle and full of compassion. It requires a patient disposition to deal with such grown up children, for what you could bear from children, who are children in years, you cannot so well endure from those who, though they have reached the age of maturity, have not reached the age of discretion, and seem as if they never would. You can teach a child of six; but who shall be tutor to a child of sixty? The great God, the Father of Israel, selected as a tutor for these grown up children, the meekest man who lived, and, in so doing, he dealt tenderly with them, as a mother with her child. Then, although he meant them ultimately and finally to come out of Egypt, he did not uproot them from their adopted land all at once, roughly and without previous loosening. No unexpected command was given to them that they were at once to sever all the ties that connected them with the people of Egypt. They were not forced in an unexpected moment to leave the leeks, and garlic, and onions, and to go out into the desert; but a long series of miracles was exhibited before their eyes, not only that Pharaoh’s power might be broken, but that they might be encouraged to rely upon the providence of God, and trust themselves with him. They ought to have been strong enough to have marched out of Egypt at once, at the first word of their leader. Had they forgotten the old covenant which had been made with their ancestors, that, the Lord would give them a land that flowed with milk and honey? But they were little children and could not perform manly exploits; they needed to be taught courage, and manliness, and faith in the unseen God of their ancestor Abraham. All those plagues which God performed in the fields of Zoan, while they had a dark side for Egypt, had a bright side for Israel; it was a “teaching them to go”; a gently persuading them to trust in God, and go out at his call. Yet, after having seen all Jehovah’s wonders, when at last they did take the first step, and found themselves at Succoth, and by and by came to Pihahiroth by the sea, they trembled like babes who totter and are ready to fall. Was it not a tender mercy on the part of God that he stretched out his hand, and held them up, and drowned all their fears at once? They had been alarmed, when they heard the whip of their taskmasters, and the rattling of the war chariots behind them; but God made, as it were with one sweep, an end of everything that would distress them. I do not find, whatever their foolish fears were, that the children of Israel in the wilderness were ever again afraid of the Egyptians pursuing them and attempting to drive them back as slaves. The old fear was slain at once; they had been slaves, and dreaded their masters, but the strength of Egypt had been so terribly broken at the Red Sea, that Israel, who before tottered, even began to dance to the music of the triumphant tambourine. Infinite tenderness removed the stumblingblock out of their way, lest their infant faith should be tripped up.
When they were fairly in the wilderness they were still treated as
children, and they needed it. They had many revelations of the
presence of God with them. A truly spiritual faith does not expect
any manifestation to the senses. God treats us today as men,
compared with the way in which he nursed the Israelites. We have no
pillar of glory shining over a visible tabernacle; no shekinah above
a material mercy seat. We have now no holy places whatever; and no
symbolic worship: —
Where’er we seek him he is found,
And every place is hallowed ground.
Our service of the spiritual God is spiritual; we walk by faith and not by sight; we worship God in the spirit and have no confidence in the flesh. The tribes of Israel, as being in their religious childhood, had revelations of different kinds. They did not see God, for who shall see the invisible? but the bright light shone between the wings of the cherubim, the glory of the Lord at times burst out from the tabernacle, and on a very memorable occasion they heard a voice speaking out of the thick darkness from the top of Sinai, when the Lord came from Paran with ten thousand of his holy ones. We have not heard the voice, neither have we seen the glory, nor do we need to wish for either, since we have a sure word of testimony, and the abiding of the Holy Spirit: but the Lord treated the tribes in the wilderness as children — their faith and spirituality were so feeble that, like the young church of Christ in the upper room, which needed the rushing wind, and cloven tongues, and miraculous power, they were favoured with signs and wonders to confirm their faith: “He taught them to go, taking them by their arms.”
12. Another part of this spiritual nursing, which the Lord condescendingly gave to his people, was their instruction by symbols. He did not give to them, as he gives to us, the clear vision of the glorious gospel in the face of Jesus Christ, but since they were not capable of reading the plain sense, and they needed pictures in their books, he gave them many and most instructive symbols. They saw the morning and the evening lamb. How full of instruction must that double offering have been. They ate the passover; they saw the doors sprinkled with blood; here was a kind of kindergarten infant school teaching for them. The high priest in his white garments, or in his glorious robes of beauty, with the Urim and Thummim glistening on his chest, the altar, the censor, the lampstand, the table of the shewbread, the laver — all these were pictures in the first A B C book for children. The gentle Father was teaching them to go. There are some childish lovers of the first covenant who would like to get the child’s books back again: like big babies they cry for the horn-books (a) of infancy, and would put aside the glory book which God has given to his children to read in the day of the open revelation of his Holy Spirit. We do not need to emulate their example. We do not desire to go back to the rudiments, when the Lord has revealed himself in the person of the Only Begotten. Yet for Israel the main instruction was type and symbol, and in that respect the Lord taught them to go. Yes, and it was not only instruction by a few chosen symbols, but everything was a symbol to them. They were always being instructed and helped. The bread they ate was food from heaven, and the water they drank leaped from the living rock; they were covered from the heat by the cloud; they were illuminated at night in their encampment by the fiery pillar; everything around them was suited for a people who needed something tangible, something to be felt, something to be seen and perceived by the senses, a people in childhood who required to have everything represented to the eye as well as spoken to the ear.
13. The entire forty years’ journey in the wilderness was a long “teaching them to go.” They were not a people able to have formed a well regulated state. They were no better than a mob of slaves, they were not fit for self-government; and, therefore, they were led around, trained, taught, educated for forty years, before they were able to go, as they did at last, when the Lord settled them in Canaan. And notice — and here I will not continue the story longer, because there are ten thousand various ways in which we can illustrate the truth — how he treated them as children even in the conquest of Canaan. Before they came up to the country to conquer it, a pestilence had destroyed many of the people. The spies said, “It is a land that eats up its inhabitants.” The Lord had also sent the hornet before them — some terrible and deadly insect which had distressed and driven out the Canaanites, and, in addition to these two scourges, the fear of them and the dread of them had very much weakened their adversaries, and prepared the whole land to submit to them. That marvellous passage of the Jordan, and that miraculous falling, down of the walls of Jericho without their needing to strike a blow — were not these all the means of teaching them to go? — were they not so gently led on until at last they became men enough to drive out the Canaanites and to settle in the land, and for every man to sit beneath his own vine and fig tree?
14. II. We will now leave the seed of Israel, and think of ourselves for awhile. How very graciously has the meaning of our text been fulfilled in us. THE LORD HAS TREATED US AS A NURSE TREATS A LITTLE CHILD.
15. To begin with, the first step the child takes — his first introduction to the art of movement — is caused by the nurse’s holding him up. Do we not remember the first uplifting that the Lord gave to some of us? We were grovelling in the dust, and should have been content to still be there, but, under a gracious word that he sent to us, through the ministry, or by some other means, he lifted us up, and we began to feel that there was something better for us than to be always creeping around on the earth, or lying still in indolent worldliness. The nurse’s hand is first extended before the child thinks of walking, and the divine power of the Holy Spirit was first exerted upon us (we being then passive under it for awhile) before we felt a desire for better things. We crawled upon the earth like beasts until God taught us to stand erect in uprightness like grace born men. We owe all to him who has taught us from our youth.
16. The nurse, when the child begins to walk, soon teaches him to know his own weakness. He has a fall or two, and a few bruises and tears; but the falls are necessary for his learning to walk. We, also, had many slips and falls. Oh, how often did we resolve in the most admirable manner, but our resolutions ended in smoke! How frequently did we make attempts in our own strength, and these were failures, until at last we said, “We must give it up,” and we were compelled to lean wholly upon our Lord. We became more active in the right way after we were weaned from our natural self-reliant activities, which had been so dear to us; but we were very long in the weaning. Falls into sin are terrible things, and these are not what I speak of here, but I mean those broken resolutions, and those aspirations to which we did not attain, those many disappointing tumbles which we encountered when we tried to walk. It is a part of the nurse’s skill to let the child feel his weakness: and it is a part of our heavenly Father’s wisdom to let us know how feeble we are. We are never wise, until we discover that we are fools: we are never strong, until we confess that we are weak. The Apostle’s words are true enough, “When I am weak, then I am strong.”
17. The nurse regulates the child’s exertions, and allows him to take a step or two at first, and only a step or two. Do we remember how tottering our first steps were? We limped very sadly. Our walking was comparable to the seeing of the man to whom men looked like trees. Our state of mind was a mixture of light and darkness. We cried, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.” There were only one or two promises in God’s word which I could lay hold of when I first came to him. My soul was supported for a little while on that word, “Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” I could only grasp that. I have known some who could get consolation from nothing except this sweet word, “Him who comes to me, I will in no wise cast out.” They could believe only a little; it hardly amounted to believing: they reached as far as hoping and trusting, intermittently mixed up with a world of doubting and fearing, but they could stir no further. It is very delightful for the Christian pastor to see a young convert begin to take the first step or two. We have seen them fall down with doubts and fears, but we have been so pleased that they could walk even a little in the way of faith, and believe even a portion of the word of God. What a mercy it is that the Lord reveals to us his own truth by slow degrees! We ought never to expect our young converts to understand the doctrine of election, and to be able to split hairs in orthodoxy. It is vain to overload them with such a precious truth as union with Christ, or so deep a doctrine as predestination. Do they know Christ as the Saviour, and themselves as sinners? Well, then, do not try to make a child run; he will never walk if you do. Do not try to teach the babe gymnastics; first let him totter on and tremble forward for a little way. “I have many things to say to you,” said the Saviour, “but you cannot bear them now.” Now, had certain reputedly wise men been there they would have said, “Lord, let us hear it all; make full proof of it all; bring it all out: we can bear it — only try us.” But our Lord knew what was in man, and, therefore, he only brought out the truth little by little, line upon line, precept upon precept, and he still does so practically with his children. We do not know our own depraved hearts so well at first as we do afterwards. Both disease and the remedy have be more fully revealed to us by and by. If we knew at the first all we shall know later, we would be so overwhelmed with the abundance of the revelation that we would not be able to endure it; therefore the Lord lets in the light by degrees. If a person had been long famished, and you were to find him hungry, and faint, and ready to die, your instincts would say, “Set food before him at once, and let him have all he wants.” Yet this would be a sure enough way to kill him. If you are wise, you will give him nutriment slowly, as he is able to bear it. If you have been long in the dark, and come into the light at once, your eyes smart, and you cannot bear it, you need to come to it by degrees, and so it is with the Lord’s children. Little by little he introduces them into the glory of his kingdom, preparing them for its fulness as children are prepared for their manhood. Have you not seen how the nurse will tempt the child to take a little longer walk, by holding out a pleasant thing to allure him? And how often has our blessed Lord tempted us to do some bolder deed of service, to do something that required more faith than we had before, by giving us choice signs of his presence, and ravishing our hearts with his love. Some of us know what it is to have seen such sweet results from our little faith, that we could only desire to try what stronger faith would do. God so rewarded the weak faith we had, that we felt we must rely upon him, and venture still further. The Lord has kindly conducted us onward in this respect.
18. The nurse does not let the child put too much weight upon his little legs at first, for it might permanently injure him. He shall have a little trial of walking: but she will put her hands under his arms, and hold him up so that he shall not be tried too long, lest he is strained and injured; so our heavenly Father tests our faith little by little. When we shall have become men in Christ Jesus, we shall be tested by stronger trials, for the Lord loves to put stress upon faith; he sends out his knights of the cross upon desperate battles, knowing that he intends to glorify himself in their natural weakness, by granting them strength: but to the little babe, he gives no such stern tasks. He tempers the wind to the shorn lamb, and deals tenderly with those who are very tender. “He carries the lambs in his bosom, and gently leads those who are with young.” Can you not look back, beloved brothers and sisters, to your own experience, and confirm all I have said, only feeling that you could say very much more about it if you could speak from your own heart?
19. The Lord has dealt with us, in other respects as children, as, for example, in not chiding us for our many mistakes. If the nurse were to scold the child for not walking as she does; if she were to be angry with him because he is not as strong as she is; it might be a long time before he started to walk at all. God sometimes does with his people as Apelles did with Alexander when he painted him — he did not draw the scar on Alexander’s face, but placed his finger over it. Notice how the Holy Spirit describes Sarah. There was not much good in what Sarah said on that day when she lied; but she called her husband “lord,” and the Holy Spirit seizes on that, and mentions it to her honour. He has often accepted our poor service, and given us sweetly to feel that it was so, though now we look back upon it, we wonder how it could have been accepted at all.
20. Many of us who preach the gospel, had God’s blessing on our early preachings. Our knowledge was dreadfully sparse, and our ability meagre. We wonder how God could have blessed us, but he did. If he were to let us know how badly we do his work even now, we would despair, and do no more; but in his great mercy, he lets the light shine on the brighter places, and lets us see what his Spirit is doing; and so we take courage and go on, and learn to walk after all. With all our tremblings, and tumblings, and fallings down, we do at length learn to stand upright, and even to run in his ways.
21. Dear brothers and sisters, do you not feel that God has had great patience with you? Do you not wonder that he has endured you? Could you have had so much patience with another as God has had with you? Impossible. You can still hardly run alone, can scarcely take a step without slipping or sliding, you still need to be carried in the everlasting arms like babes, and yet you are persuaded that his patience will hold out until there shall be no more need of it. He will bear us as on eagle’s wings, that is, he will uphold us with unwearied perseverance and strength of love even to the end.
22. We must remind you, however, before we leave this, that there are some respects in which the metaphor before us does not come up to the full point. God has been very gracious to us, beyond what a nurse is to a child. Let us unfold this fact for a moment or two. The nurse, with the child, does not have the disadvantages that God has with us, for we are full of the notion that we can walk, and so there are two battles in our case — the first, is to cure us of our bad walking, and the next is, to teach us to walk correctly. It is sometimes more difficult to instruct a man who has been educated incorrectly, than it would have been if he knew nothing. He has both to learn and to unlearn. So with us: we have a notion that we can do so much, until the Lord shows us that without him we can do nothing. We are very strong in our own opinion: we are inflated with pride and self-sufficiency, and that has to be taken from us; so that there is a double task for infinite mercy to perform — not merely to plant a tree, but to cut down the old tree and uproot it — to get rid of our former way of walking, and then to teach us to walk in the Spirit, and not in the imaginary energy of the flesh.
23. Moreover, you never found a babe anxious to use crutches; but everyone of us, when God’s Spirit has begun to teach us to walk, have been seeking to use crutches. “Cursed is he who trusts in man.” And how many of us must have deserved that curse; for trusting in man is very very common. Resting on an arm of flesh seems to be the hereditary disease of God’s people. They run first to this and then to that, but forget their true and only resting place. The simple walk of faith, trusting and leaning alone upon the Invisible, how difficult it is to bring ourselves to it! We want to have some favourite child to lean upon, or husband, or wife, or friend. Our abilities, or something or other that we can see and handle, shall be the golden calf which we set up and say, “These are your gods, oh Israel!” Here is a great difficulty, then, to wean us from crutches, which are promoters of spiritual lameness.
24. I have never met a child who had any fear about the nurse’s power to hold it up. She puts her arms around him, and he trusts himself with her, leaning wholly upon her. But we appear to be afraid of leaning too heavily upon God: we cannot leave ourselves with him: we do not throw ourselves right back on the divine bosom. Yet there is no true rest for ourselves until we do. As long as we are trying to support ourselves in some measure or degree, we have not yet come to the rest of faith. I have known people who went in the sea to learn to swim, but they never dare to take their feet off the bottom, and I do not see how they can swim while they also endeavour to stand on their feet. Standing and swimming cannot be done at the same time. So there are souls that would gladly trust themselves to the goodness of God, but they cannot be content without an earthly prop. They cannot quite cast themselves upon God and trust in the stream of his abundant faithfulness. This, then, is another difficulty which the nurse does not have, but our God has with us.
Let us make one more remark, and that is, that many of us are most
unwilling to try to walk. Although we are believers, after a fashion,
it may be said of us at this day as of those in the Saviour’s time:
“If the Son of Man comes, shall he find faith on the earth?” Why,
entire portions of the Christian church are afraid to trust God with
the maintenance of their ministers and the support of their worship;
they enter into an adulterous alliance with the State sooner than
trust in God and rely upon the faithfulness of his people. And just
as it is with large numbers of the people, so it is with individual
Christians; they cannot walk by faith; they must have some way or
other of clinging to the flesh. Oh, for grace to be willing to
believe in God! Oh, for power to cut the moorings, and to be finished
with the signs, and the evidences, and the marks, and come to look
upon Christ and his finished work; upon the covenant, and upon the
faithful God, who does not break his promise and cannot turn away
from his decree. May he who teaches us to profit make us to walk in
his ways. Our prayer is like that of quaint old Quarles: —
Great ALL IN ALL, that art my rest, my home;
My way is tedious, and my steps are slow:
Reach forth thy helping hand: or bid me come;
I am thy child, oh teach thy child to go:
Conjoin thy sweet commands to my desire,
And I will venture, though I fall or tire.
Now, why is it that mothers take so many pains in teaching their
children to walk? I suppose the reason is, because they are their own
offspring. And the reason why the Lord has been so patient with us,
and will be so still, is because we are his children, still his
children, still, his children! Ah there is wondrous power in
that — still his children! I was dining once, and I heard a mother
bragging about her son. She said a very great deal about him; and
someone sitting near me said, “I wish that good woman would be
quiet.” I said, “What is the matter? May she not speak of her son?”
“Why,” he said, “he has been deported. He was as bad a fellow as ever
lived, and yet she always sees something wonderful in him.” So I
ventured, some little time later, when I had gained her acquaintance,
to say something about this son; and I remember her remark: “If there
is no one else to speak up for him his mother always will.” Just so;
she loved him so much that if she could not be altogether blind to
his faults, yet she would also see all that was hopeful in him. Our
blessed God does not bring into the foreground what we are, so much
as what he intends to make us. “I will remember their sins and their
iniquities no more for ever.” He puts our blackness away; and he sees
us as we shall be when we shall bear the image of the heavenly, and
shall be like our Lord. For Christ’s sake, beholding our shield and
looking upon the face of his anointed, he loves us and still goes on
to instruct us. It seems at times as if there were a conflict in the
divine heart, and he felt he must surely give us up, but then his
love rushes to the rescue, and it comes to this: “How shall I make
you as Admah? How shall I set you as Zeboim? My heart is turned
within me, my repentings are kindled together.” He returns to us with
such a word as this: “I have betrothed you to me in righteousness,
and in mercy, and in judgment.” He declares that he hates divorce:
“ ‘Turn, oh backsliding children,’ says the Lord, ‘for I am married to
you.’ ” We are his own children. Oh! I have found it such a blessed
thing, in my own experience, to plead before God that I am his child.
When I was racked some months ago with pain, to an extreme degree, so
that I could no longer bear it without crying out, I asked all to go
from the room, and leave me alone; and then I had nothing I could say
to God except this, “You are my Father and I am your child; and you,
as a Father, are tender and full of mercy. I could not bear to see my
child suffer as you make me suffer, and if I saw him tormented as I
am now, I would do what I could to help him, and put my arms under
him to sustain him. Will you hide your face from me, my Father? Will
you still lay on a heavy hand, and not give me a smile from your
countenance?” I held the Lord to that. I talked to him as Luther
would have done, and pleaded his Fatherhood in downright earnest.
“Just as a father pities his children, even so the Lord pities those
who fear him.” If he is a Father, let him show himself as a Father — so
I pleaded, and I dared to say, when I was quiet, and they came back
who watched me: “I shall never have such pain again from this moment,
for God has heard my prayer.” I bless God that ease came and the
racking pain never returned. Faith mastered the pain by laying hold
upon God in his own revealed character, that character in which in
our darkest hour we are best able to appreciate him. I think that is
why that prayer, “Our Father who is in heaven,” is given to us,
because, when we are lowest, we can still say, “Our Father,” and when
it is very dark, and we are very weak, our childlike appeal can go
up, “Father, help me! Father rescue me!” He still teaches us to go,
taking us by the arms, because he is still our parent. If anyone
fears God may leave him, let him enquire whether a mother can forget
her nursing child, so that she should not have compassion on the son
of her womb, for even if it could be so, God will not forget his
people. He has engraved you upon the palms of his hands. There is a
relationship between you and him so intimate that it never can be
forgotten, so firm that it can never be dissolved. Be of good
confidence; he will teach you to go, until you shall run without
weariness, and walk without fainting. I wish that all here had
committed themselves to this good Father’s hand; I pray that they may
do so. May the Holy Spirit grant it, for whoever believes in the Lord
Jesus Christ shall be saved. Amen.
[Portion of Scripture Read Before Sermon — Hosea 11]
Some of our sermon readers may not be aware that Mr. Spurgeon issues a monthly magazine, price 3d. entitled, The Sword and the Trowel. It is full of interesting subject matter, and commands a large circulation. The volume for 1871 will be ready a few days after the first of December. Early orders for next year are requested. Messrs. Passmore and Alabaster are the publishers.
(a) Horn-book: A leaf of paper containing the alphabet (often with the addition of the ten digits, some elements of spelling, and the Lord’s Prayer) protected by a thin plate of translucent horn, and mounted on a tablet of wood with a projecting piece for a handle. OED.